Since Sunday, life has changed for Washington Nationals first baseman Michael Morse. He's no longer just a feel-good story — a hulking right-handed hitter finally having the type of standout season he'd been waiting for since the Chicago White Sox drafted him as a shortstop 11 years ago.
Now, he's a guy people pull up next to in D.C. traffic and go nuts — honking their horns, screaming his name, and shouting words of encouragement. He's the guy teammates past and present are pumping up on Twitter and Facebook, and the one with a girlfriend and her family in Florida operating a veritable campaign headquarters to get Morse's name out to the masses.
They all have one goal: Vote Morse.
For the bench player turned every-day left fielder, turned every-day first baseman, the push to get him to win the National League Final Vote for the 2011 All-Star game has been an experience like no other.
"This is a first, but it's something I could get used to," Morse said of the attention over getting him to the game. "It's actually really fun. I'm enjoying it. It's great. It's good for me, but it's also good for the team. It's good to get publicity for the Nationals. Why not get two players from the Nationals in the All-Star Game? I'd love to join [Tyler Clippard] and watch him work his magic."
Since the word came down Sunday that Morse would be one of five contestants in the Final Vote competition for the last player on the NL All-Star team, there's been a groundswell of support.
Pitcher John Lannan hung over the dugout railing Tuesday night with the name on the back of his jersey covered up with a white sheet of paper. On it: Vote Morse. Former Seattle teammate and current Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones - a Final Vote candidate in the American League — tweeted to his 18,000-plus followers earlier Wednesday to "Vote for my man Mike Morse. Having a great year. Deserves the crap out of it."
The Nationals waged all-out Morse-mania Wednesday night, devoting their entire in-stadium pregame show to pumping up their potential All-Star. Morse was back in the lineup for the first time since Saturday, missing the past three games after being hit with a pitch on the forearm.
Nationals Park employees donned Vote Morse T-shirts; Teammates appeared in a video urging fans to vote — a video that included the entire bullpen in the clubhouse hot tub. His girlfriend, Jessica Etably, and her family have been campaigning for votes everywhere from Morse's hometown Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Columbia.
"Oh man," Morse said. "It's unbelievable. [The Etablys] are voting nonstop. I couldn't be in this race without them, I'll tell you that.
"Her family is very supportive of me. I tell them, 'You don't have to do this,' but they say, 'We want to. We want to help you out as much as we can because you're deserving of it.' The other guys that are in the race, (Arizona's Ian Kennedy, Los Angeles' Andre Ethier, Colorado's Todd Helton and Philadelphia's Shane Victorino) I bet they've got the same thing going but, to me, this is still new."
As of Wednesday evening, Morse still was in fourth place, ahead of only Kennedy. Voting ends at 4 p.m. Thursday. Even if he's not voted in, Morse said the experience is one he'd love to be a part of again.
"There's a lot of guys that are playing in the same situation I was in," he said. "It just shows you that you never know what that guy on the bench can do unless you play him.
"[The Etablys] told me, 'Next year, we'll be ready for it. We'll get the billboards ready.' "
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